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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Remarkable stuff, these past two weeks.

 

Let's be clear: there isn't a sane betting patron in the world who would have laid hard money on the Dolphins taking out the Patriots and Chargers in succession, not after last month's disaster in Arizona.

 

As Talking Heads front man David Byrne might say, 'How did I get here?'

 

Seems like eons ago, doesn't it? That 31-10 humiliation at the hands of the Cardinals conjured thoughts of a 1-15 redux. Phones in pro shops across America were ringing, the voices of miserable Dolfans on the other end looking for Sunday tee times to hide from the pain and aggravation sure to come.

 

Now, suddenly, the Miami Dolphins are back in the land of the living, back to .500 ball for the first time since 2005. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a professional football team once again.

 

And, it's a confident bunch.

 

"With us it's not just about, `Hey let's see if we can win eight games this year,' '' guard Justin Smiley said in the euphoric winning locker room last Sunday. ''We're saying, `Hey, let's play in the Super Bowl.' That's what I'm talking about after seeing what we're capable of doing.''

 

Outrageous stuff, yes. But that's what beating two of the AFC's best will do for you.

 

It is altogether possible that we will reflect on these past two weeks and recognize them as the turning point for this beleaguered franchise. However, the time for silly declarations is not today. Winning, real winning, is a habit. You need more than two wins to be hooked.

 

So for now, let's recognize what this team has going for it, the things which have made them the surprise of the NFL at the quarter pole. If it carries forward, we'll have some fun this winter.

 

The Wildcat: While not as explosive as it was against the Patriots, the Chargers still had trouble with it; this after having the benefit of prior week film. This tells us that it is not a fluke or a one time gimmick. Rather, it is a royal pain in the neck for the opposition to have to prepare for in addition to Miami's base offense. A big test will come on October 19, when the Dolphins face the Ravens and their #1 ranked defense.

 

Chad Pennington: He may be the best quarterback the team has had since Dan Marino, and it's his accuracy that sets him apart. Current passer rating: 93.5. Current completion rate: 67% (Top 5 in NFL). Last quarterback to enjoy comparable numbers: Mr. Marino (1995). The sum of this is that defenses can no longer stack 8 men up with impunity. The beneficiaries are the running game (4.3 yards per attempt) and the defense (time of possession, field position).

 

Ronnie Brown: The injury is over and done with. He has a gaudy 4.9 yard per carry average, is on pace for a 1,200 yard season, and is tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns (6). His work in pass pro has been better than ever. Oh, and he plays quarterback in the Wildcat. Folks, Ronnie Brown is Pro Bowl caliber player, a legitimate difference-maker.

 

Offensive Line: Give line boss Mike Maser a ton of credit for getting this new crew to play so cohesively this early. No unit has improved more. Guard Justin Smiley is a joy to watch, especially when he pulls and flattens defenders. Rookie left tackle Jake Long makes up for his technique flaws with great effort; he is going to be an excellent player for many years to come. Samson Satele?s athleticism is so valuable; everything up front starts with him. Right tackle Vernon Carey is quietly making a case to management that they ought to re-sign him to an extension. And guard Ikechuku Ndukwe - 'E.K.' to his friends - has improved with each start.

 

Defense, defense, defense: Really, it's been overall defense, playing cohesively well, that was the key in both wins. It goes without saying that a Bill Parcells' team is going to play good defense. Sure enough, the Dolphins have returned to their signature stinginess; they're currently ranked 7th overall in total defense, and this includes the 445 yard disaster at Arizona. Most of the good work has been against the run (82.8 yards per game, 7th overall), as the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson recently discovered (35 yards on 12 carries). Pass defense continues to be somewhat of a problem (206 yards per game, 15th overall), and this is due partly to the slow recovery of CB Michael Lehan. The biggest overall improvement has been with the front seven. The defensive line has a quality rotation again with captain Vonnie Holliday, Jason Ferguson, Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Phillip Merling (rookie) and Kendall Langford (rookie). The linebackers are active, doing a good job filling holes, covering receivers, and blitzing the quarterback. Two standouts in particular, Joey Porter and Channing Crowder, are leading the way. Porter, back to his old home at WLB, is playing the way he is capable of. Crowder could have 100+ tackles this season; his goal line stuff of Tomlinson preserved a win.

 

Coaching: He came to the Dolphins lacking the pedigree of his predecessors. People wondered if he could cut it as a head coach. No more doubts, Dolfans. Tony Sparano knows coaching. His decisions on staff have proven particularly strong, and have made important contributions in the improvement of the players. Sparano hasn't been perfect, but no one is. Perhaps Dolphin color man Jim Mandich said it best, 'What we're seeing is a true professionally run football team.'

 
     
   
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